There's no doubt that the Ravens had bad luck this year.
When you lose two of your best players in the same practice just before the season, then finish the year with 19 players on injured reserve, it sure seems like the football gods just weren't on your side.
But Head Coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens aren't just going to throw their hands up and cite bad fortune for their crushing spate of injuries in 2021 and move on to 2022 crossing their fingers for a better result. Like anything else, they're going to try to figure out why, then go about finding solutions.
"You can say it's bad luck. You can say it's a fluke. I get that, but I don't feel like we have the luxury to live there. That's not something that we can say that that's it," Harbaugh said Monday.
"We have to turn over every stone. We have to look at every possible avenue to do the best we can to make sure this doesn't happen again. That's what we plan on doing."
Injuries aren't an excuse, but they are absolutely one reason why some teams fare better than others. The Cincinnati Bengals, for example, are heading to Super Bowl LVI with just eight players on IR, and two of the best (right tackle Riley Reiff and defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi) didn't go on until December and January, respectively. They're a strong team regardless, but good health has played a role in their resurgent season.
Baltimore entered the 2021 season with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations, but injuries left them wondering "what if" by year's end. Over the final six-game losing streak, injuries left Baltimore's roster hanging by a thread.
"I think if you look at it, it is a little cyclical," Harbaugh said. "You go back to 2015, we got impacted with injuries really badly. In 2016, we pulled ourselves out of that, and we did really well for a couple of years. This year, we just got smashed with them."
The Ravens had more significant injuries in 2021 than any season in their history. Here's a recap of the key losses and an outlook on players who are recovering.
Harbaugh said he already met with his performance team, led by Head Strength & Conditioning Coach Steve Saunders, a couple weeks ago to start working out solutions.
"We sat in there for four hours and went over every aspect of what we're doing and what we can do on the football side to try to improve that – from practice schedules, from training camp schedules, from OTAs, from how we train, from how we condition, even how we do our team, all of our modeling in terms of loads and things like that in our team periods and in our individual periods," Harbaugh said. "I mean, man, we're going to look at everything, and we're going to change a lot.
"I'm already drawing up practice schedules, and we're putting them into models for loads and things like that to do everything we can do to make sure that we come through as strong as we can be and ready to attack the season when the season starts. So, we're not going to just take it and say it's OK. Something has to be fixed."
The other injury front is rehabilitation, and that didn't go as well as hoped this season either. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley was expected to be back to full strength by the start of the year following his 2020 ankle injury, but he played in one game and then shut it down and got another surgery.
Tight end Nick Boyle's return was delayed after last year's major knee injury. He only played in five games and was never totally right.
Harbaugh said he's "hopeful" that all the players who suffered season-ending injuries, including outside linebacker Tyus Bowser (Achilles) in the final game, would be ready to play at the start of next season. But there's still a lot of rehab to be done.
"I do believe that, as an organization, we're going to do everything we can to make sure our rehab operation is cutting edge and is at the highest level," Harbaugh said. "That's another stone that's being turned over."